It is defacto quarterfinals weekend for many teams – its time for the Conference Championships in College Football! With CFP spots still on the line, there is a lot up for grabs going into this weekend. With that, let’s go into all of the Conference Championship games this weekend:
MAC Championship – Northern Illinois v Buffalo (Friday, 7:00pm, ESPN2)
A loss two weeks ago against Ohio stopped the Bulls chances of being ranked in the final CFP poll dead in their tracks, but they do get a matchup with perennial top MAC foe Northern Illinois, who is coming out of a very weak Western division. Buffalo has been outscoring opponents big time this year, scoring over 30 points nine times this season and gets an NIU team that has been allowing more points than they’ve scored on average (19.9 to 20.9). Quarterback Tyree Jackson has been leading the offense for the Bulls this season and doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon.
MY PICK: Buffalo over Northern Illinois, 34 – 14
Pac-12 Championship – Utah v Washington (Friday, 8:00pm, FOX)
Two great offenses face off in Santa Clara as a Rose Bowl bid is on the line. The Huskies won in this spot two years ago while Utah looks for its first Pac-12 title. These two teams played in Salt Lake City back in September, with Washington getting the best of the Utes. But that was before Kyle Whittingham’s team got it going on all cylinders. Jake Browning and Miles Gaskin came alive last week against Washington State, but the Huskies have looked like a different team when they leave their home state. This should be thrilling and a close one.
MY PICK: Washington over Utah, 27 – 24
Big 12 Championship – Texas v Oklahoma (Saturday, 12:00pm, ABC)
The first Red River Shootout this year was one of the best games of the year, so why not do it again. Revenge is on the line in Jerry-World, as the Sooners look to win round two against hated rival Texas. The savior of the Longhorns program, Sam Ehlinger, and Heisman hopeful Kyler Murray look to duel it out. A month ago, Texas looked as if all hope was lost in getting here, with back to back losses at Oklahoma State and against West Virginia, but the pieces fell in place. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma offense has gotten the best of the rest of its foes – outscoring each since that fated day at the Cotton Bowl – although allowing monster points and yards in doing so. Offensives will be on display in a true shootout.
MY PICK: Oklahoma over Texas, 52 – 46
Sun Belt Championship – Louisiana v Appalachian State (Saturday, 12:00pm, ESPN)
One of the most well put together and veteran teams of the Group of Five, Appalachian State, tries to go 6-0 against Louisiana in the first ever Sun Belt Championship game. In their now five years in the Sun Belt, App State has had a share of the Sun Belt title in the last two, but looks for their first outright this year. Louisiana gets here with first year head coach Billy Napier and off of great offensive play, with a 2000 yard passer in Andre Nunez and a 1000 yard rusher in Trey Ragas. The Ragin’ Cajun’s have had one of the best scoring offenses in the Sun Belt this year and looks to avenge the loss they had right on this field just over a month ago; that win for the Mountaineers gave them their first AP Top 25 ranking. A strong rushing game by Darrynton Evans will be the key for App State here.
MY PICK: Appalachian State over Louisiana, 38-21
C-USA Championship – UAB v Mid Tennessee (Saturday, 1:30pm, CBSSN)
This isn’t de-ja-vu, UAB and MTSU will be at it again in Murfreesboro for the second straight weekend. The Blue Raiders stifled the Blazers offense last week, holding them to 3 points and 89 total yards. I highly doubt we will see that type of game again this week, but UAB is going to need to improve greatly to be even in this game. The Blazers offense has to run through receiver Xavier Ubosi, who has been having a great senior season. In just its second year back from the football program being shutdown, UAB has really bounced back and no matter what the outcome is on Saturday, should be proud of making it to this point.
MY PICK: Mid Tennessee over UAB, 33-27
American Championship – Memphis v UCF (Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC)
Memphis has yet to beat UCF since they’ve been playing regularly in 2005, but they haven’t been playing like they are outmatched. The last two matchups, here last year in this game and earlier this season, have been thrilling editions of what could be the next American Athletic Conference rivalry. With Milton going down last week, possibly ending his career, Darriel Mack, Jr. will be leading the Golden Knights when they hit the field in Orlando. Close friends with Mackenzie Milton, Mack will need his best to outscore a Memphis Tigers offense that has been on fire this season. If you thought that the Big 12 Championship will be high scoring, this could very well top it.
MY PICK: UCF over Memphis, 58 – 52
SEC Championship – Alabama v Georgia (Saturday, 4:00pm, CBS)
A rematch of last year’s National Championship Game, which was the birth of the Tua era at Alabama, and of the 2012 SEC Championship Game looks to be the best game of the day. Nick Saban looks to continue what is arguably the best season by a college football team since the 1888 Yale Football Team (who outscored opponents 694-0). However, this will be the first challenge that Alabama will face this season, and they have not looked in the mindset these past two weeks, being tied 10-10 at halftime to FCS team The Citadel two weeks ago and struggling in the first half against Auburn; they pulled out both games in the second half, but looked far from the team was the first ten games of the season. The Tide have won four straight in this rivalry, but all guns will be blazing in what could end up being a prelude to a possible rematch in the National Title Game this year if certain things fall in line. By the way, Saban looks to go 16-0 against former assistants.
MY PICK: Alabama over Georgia, 34 – 24
Mountain West Championship – Fresno State v Boise State (Saturday, 7:45pm, ESPN)
The Broncos have made it (and hosted) three MW Title Games, each time having to duel it out with the Bulldogs. They’ve won the last two, but this year they go up against the best Fresno State team they’ve faced. These two teams played on the Smurf Turf in early November, a 24-17 Broncos win, but was one that could have gone either way. The Bulldogs defense has been solid in their last two while the Broncos offense is firing. Get ready for a good ole fashion matchup in Idaho.
MY PICK: Fresno State over Boise State, 28 – 27
ACC Championship – Clemson v Pittsburgh (Saturday, 8:00pm, ABC)
Clemson looks to be the first team in over two decades to win, outright, four straight conference titles. But standing in their way is a Pittsburgh team that has never lost to Clemson, beating the Tigers in 2016 in Death Valley. This is a much improved Pitt team, although they have been a bit Jekyll and Hyde this season. One of the major pitfalls of Dabo lead Clemson teams – they struggle against strong running teams. Pittsburgh loves to power through and run the rock; don’t write off the Panthers – even after they only put up 3 on Miami.
MY PICK: Clemson over Pittsburgh 32 – 21
Big Ten Championship – Northwestern v Ohio State (Saturday, 8:00pm, FOX)
The Buckeyes snuck into this game after upsetting Michigan. They haven’t looked all that great this season, especially throughout the second half of the year, but they have gotten past these slow, defense first teams, very well, like Minnesota and Michigan (and what Northwestern runs). Pat Fitzgerald was asked before the season, after his third 10 win season and being ranked 17, what was next for his program and he said “win the Big Ten.” Now, he is one step away from that. This is a huge hurdle, but the Wildcats defense has been stopping potent offenses in their tracks. Dwayne Haskins has struggled majorly when defenses can get pressure – and this is a defense that can get a hand in your face.
MY PICK: Northwestern over Ohio State, 21 – 18